Presumably there was some point when Gameloft sat down with a pair of scissors, cut up the names Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band, shuffled them about and settled on two options when naming their new game: Guitar Rock Tour or World Band Hero. We can only assume that the latter name was already taken, or didn't test well in focus groups. Shame, really, because World Band Hero brings to mind jet-setting ninja rock stars saving the world from spiky haired anime villains, whereas Guitar Rock Tour sounds exactly like the middling knock-off that it is.
It's difficult not to go into Guitar Rock Tour without wincing. How good, really, can a portable pastiche of Guitar Hero possibly be? Oddly enough, on first contact, it's not all that bad. The water is, if you will, a little warmer than expected. GRT provides a decent approximation of Guitar Hero/Rock Band style gameplay, as you frantically pick out multicoloured, descending notes on a chart, building up point-scoring powers and trying not to get booed off stage. While stabbing at a touchscreen with a stylus is several orders of magnitude less involving than flouncing about with a plastic guitar in front of Rock Band, there's a similar feeling of satisfaction that comes from picking your way through a tricky solo, or hitting a power chord at just the right moment.
We were pleasantly surprised to find drumming included in GRT's options. It still employs the same basic game mechanic of having to hit the right notes at the right time, but drumming uses only two note charts, representing the snare and kick drums. Any button on the left hand side of the DS triggers the snare, and the kick drum is controlled with the DS's right side buttons. Pressing both left and right at the same time splashes the cymbals. It initially appears to be blindingly simple compared to the guitar mode - and, on the easier levels, it is - but it does require some quick finger-eye coordination. It benefits greatly from being a little bit different from the stock standard guitar mode, and in its own modest way, succeeds in adding some variety to proceedings.
So, it all works better than expected and is, against all odds, quite good fun. For a little while. Far too quickly the challenge of Guitar Rock Tour changes from one of manual dexterity to one of endurance and mental anguish. There are only fifteen songs on the track list, so you really need to ask yourself how many times you can play through Nickleback's "If Everyone Cared" before ripping your earphones out and curling up in a sobbing ball on the floor. For us, the answer was 'almost once'. Unfortunately, if you play through to the end of the Career Mode on every difficulty level, you'll be playing every song over and over and over again.
It's not the actual music that's the problem - well, other than Nickelback, obviously - just the lack of variety. As much as we love The Hives' "Walk Idiot Walk", and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" is always a bit of a giggle, by the time you complete a career, every song will have worn desperately thin. Perhaps more dispiriting than the endless repetition is that your reward for battling through a career mode level is, more often than not, to replay songs that you conquered two levels earlier. Arriving at a new location to a bigger audience, and then discovering you have to play through "Beat It" once again will sap the will of the even the most party-hearty rock monster. We could be generous and suggest that playing the same song at every show, night after night, is a canny simulation of real life rock stardom, but the truth is that Guitar Rock Tour just doesn't have enough songs in it to sustain interest throughout its Career Mode. It's also worth noting that, as far as we could tell, every song is a cover, not an original. They're generally not badly done, though a few of them feel excessively extended. It's one way to stretch the gameplay out as much as possible, but ultimately makes the game feel even more padded and empty.
There is a Quick Play option that lets you skip to any song you've already unlocked in Career Mode but, again, unless you're up for an umpty-trillionth run through "Rock You Like a Hurricane" - a song we'd had enough of back in Guitar Hero III - there's not much reason to dabble with Quick Play. As you play the game you'll unlock various achievements that can subsequently be viewed under the Awards section, but it's doubtful that your drive to unlock all 24 Awards will be stronger than your desire to listen to something - anything! - other than the game's abbreviated tracklist.
The quality of the sound is pretty good, particularly through a decent pair of headphones - a common courtesy really, unless you want to drive anyone in earshot completely mad. It's also not a game you'll want to play in bed next to a sleeping partner, with the endless click-CLICK-click-click-CLICK of your DS buttons being somewhat on par with a dripping tap in the irritation stakes. Graphically the game is functional, doing a fine job of scrolling coloured blobs down the screen. There are some nicely animated band scenes that play along with each song, but you're unlikely to be paying much attention to them while playing the game.
Guitar Rock Tour is a game clinging to the back of the (ahem) bandwagon, looking to siphon off a few dollars from people who either have no access to one of the full-blown music games, or just like the idea of rocking out on the go. GTR is a reasonable stab at a the genre, but spending an hour or two with it really only serves to remind you how much fun Guitar Hero and Rock Band really are, and that your money would be better used to bribe your way into the home of a friend who already owns either of the bigger, better games.